Master’s in Software Engineering Program Guide

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by Christina Payne
Published on September 3, 2020 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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While earning an on-campus or online master's degree in software engineering, students learn the critical software development skills needed to succeed in high-level careers. While many software engineering jobs only require a bachelor's degree, employers often prefer candidates with more advanced degrees because of their deeper knowledge base.

Furthermore, employees with advanced degrees tend to earn higher salaries and earn promotions more quickly than their counterparts.

Read on to learn more about what to expect in a software engineering master's program, including sample courses, common concentrations, and potential careers. Readers can also learn how to choose the right program and how long it takes to earn a degree.

What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineers develop computer systems software, and they need comprehensive knowledge of programming languages. These professionals also build applications software, including web browsers and database programs.

Software engineers mostly work in offices. They can work individually or as part of a team. Many engineers find employment with software publishers and development firms.

What Are the Best Online Master's in Software Engineering Programs of 2020?

#1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
#2 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
#3 California State University, Fullerton Fullerton, CA
#4 Stevens Institute of Technology Hoboken, NJ
#5 Brandeis University Waltham, MA
#6 University of Houston-Clear Lake Houston, TX
#7 Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago, IL
#8 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
#9 University of West Florida Pensacola, FL
#10 East Carolina University Greenville, NC

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Should I Get a Master's in Software Engineering?

A master's degree in software engineering prepares graduates for career advancement, higher wages, and management-level positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 21% growth in this industry between 2018 and 2028 — about four times faster than the typical field in the U.S. Earning a master's can help candidates stand out from other applicants in the field.

While a bachelor's degree in software engineering teaches the basics, a master's degree in the field delves deeper into topics like software solutions and emerging technologies. Master's programs also allow for greater specialization, letting students explore topics that align more closely with their professional goals.

Beyond higher-level software engineering classes, students also gain key competencies related to written and oral communication, research, and critical thinking. Many programs require a written thesis or capstone project, which students may need to present to their professors. A capstone project teaches students to think analytically, formulate arguments, and find solutions to software engineering issues.

What Will I Learn in a Software Engineering Graduate Program?

The curriculum of a software engineering program provides an in-depth look at programming, software design, and computer engineering theory. Students must have already mastered the basics in each of these areas to succeed in their master's program.

Read on for examples of common courses and concentrations found in software engineering master's programs. However, keep in mind that not all programs offer these specific courses and concentrations; applicants should always research potential programs to learn about their options.


Building Interactive Web Applications for Data Analysis

Students learn how to create web applications, focusing on aspects of back-end functionality and front-end user experience. Students work with relational and nonrelational databases and explore machine-learning techniques.

Advanced Scientific Computing

Students learn computational research skills by looking at practical examples across industries, including finance and physics. This course explores how to tackle problem-solving when students cannot employ a systematic approach.

Web Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

This course shows the connection between the web and GIS. Students learn to manage web GIS projects and how to use the latest GIS technology.

Software Testing and Test-Driven Development

This course blends traditional software testing techniques with behavior-driven testing. Professors use case studies to show students how companies deploy software testing during all stages of development.

Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science

This course covers probability, logic, and writing proofs. Students learn how to read mathematical notations. The class teaches participants to communicate their thoughts mathematically and acts as a stepping stone to courses in algorithms.


Software Architecture

Software architecture describes system structures and behaviors. This concentration allows students to explore the tools and technology used to create software organization.


Cybersecurity protects software and its valuable data. Students learn about hacking techniques and how to prevent them by studying examples of hacking attempts.

Software Development

Students learn the process of developing software from start to finish. They learn to consider the customer's needs, how to design and test, and how to distribute software applications.

Data Analysis

This concentration teaches students to collect and interpret data. Participants learn how data analytics drive decisions across industries and how to conduct operations and market research.

Project Management

Students learn how to manage a team of software engineers or other IT professionals. This course also explores the relationship between IT and non-IT departments, as well as how to incorporate goals and personnel from both.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Software Engineering?

A master's degree in software engineering prepares students for advancement in their current positions. Graduates can also pursue management positions and careers in research and education. Professionals with a master's degree tend to earn more than their counterparts who only have a bachelor's.

Below, readers can find examples of careers for software engineers who hold a master's degree.


Computer and Information Research Scientist

These professionals help software engineers solve computing problems by inventing new computing tools and methods. Research scientists also test software and analyze the results to prove the efficacy of their solutions.

Secondary School Teacher

Individuals who hold a subject-specific master's degree can set themselves apart from other applicants. These professionals may teach the fundamentals of computer science and engineering, preparing students for more advanced classes in college. Teachers at public schools must also be licensed.

Database Administrators

Database administrators oversee the use and security of databases within an organization. They often oversee the input of information into databases and determine who needs access.

Cybersecurity Specialist

These professionals may be employed directly by organizations or act as consultants, discussing security measures for software and data. Specialists provide measures that can prevent attacks and respond to any threats against their systems.

Software Architect

Software architects build the structures of software systems. These professionals often work on a team with other software developers to create new systems and software applications.

How to Choose a Software Engineering Master's Program

When researching colleges, prospective students should always look for institutional and/or programmatic accreditation. Most schools list accreditation on their websites. Students should avoid applying to colleges without regional accreditation.

Applicants should also look at the program and course requirements. Not all programs teach the same classes. Students should make sure the program they apply to matches with their academic and career goals.

Readers can find more information about choosing a master's program here.

How to Get Into a Software Engineering Master's Program

To be admitted into most master's programs, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in software engineering or a closely related field. This requirement ensures that incoming students already have basic software engineering skills.

Applicants must submit official transcripts from all previously attended postsecondary institutions. Some schools also use minimum GPA requirements. Depending on the program, students may need a 3.0 or higher to qualify.

In many cases, prospective students must also take the GRE and submit official test scores with their application.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Software Engineering?

Many factors influence how long it takes to earn a master's degree, including credit requirements and delivery method. Most full-time students complete a master's degree in 18-24 months. Part-time students generally take longer.

Students who wish to earn their degrees more quickly should research accelerated programs. Accelerated programs offer a faster timeline, often allowing students to finish within a year.

Depending on their career, graduates may need to complete certification or licensure requirements after earning their degree. Readers should research individual career requirements to find out more.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Master's in Software Engineering?

Students should always consider the cost of earning a master's degree in software engineering. Tuition costs vary depending on the location and type of school. Learners should see whether a public school in their state offers a program that appeals to them.

In some cases, students pursuing an online degree in software engineering pay less than they would for an on-campus program.

Read More About Software Engineering on BestColleges

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